In Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College (Free Miles), the employment tribunal (ET) held that a belief in ethical veganism did not amount to a philosophical belief the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).
What is a philosophical belief under the EqA?
Under the EqA, religion or belief (including philosophical belief) is a protected characteristic. In order to establish a philosophical belief that will be protected under the EqA, certain criteria must be satisfied:
i. The belief must be genuinely held.
ii. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
iii. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
iv. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
v. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Ms Free Miles was a veterinary nurse employed by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). In February 2019, she was arrested by police in connection with alleged burglaries by the Animal Liberation Front. Following her arrest, she was summarily dismissed by RVC on the basis she had taken part in activities including trespass and theft. Ms Free Miles subsequently brought claims against RVC for, among other things, direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination. She argued that her belief in ethical veganism included a moral obligation to take positive action to reduce animal suffering, including trespass on property and removal of animals. By the ET hearing, she had been charged with criminal offences relating to animal rights activities.
The ET had to determine, using the above criteria, whether Ms Free Miles’ belief in ethical veganism amounted to a philosophical belief. It was the final criterion where Free Miles failed, and thus it was held by the ET that Ms Free Miles’ ethical veganism was not a protected belief. The ET stated it was not open to individuals to decide which laws to obey and disobey and that any belief to take actions that are unlawful and interfere with the property rights of others could not be worthy of respect in a democratic society. The ET went on to say that had the moral obligation been limited to lawful action, it may have reached the conclusion ethical veganism amounted to a philosophical belief.
Ethical Veganism as a Philosophical Belief
It is important to note that ethical veganism was held capable of being a philosophical belief in Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports (Casamitjana). The key distinction being, in Casamitjana, the claimant’s beliefs, were worthy of respect in a democratic society.
What does this mean for Employers?
The decision in Free Miles is a first instance decision and as a result is not binding on other ET’s. The decision is useful in that it helps us to understand where the line is drawn between protecting philosophical beliefs and maintaining a wider respect for the law.
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